stuff I read

The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon

39893600Summary from Goodreads:
A Wall Street Journal writer’s conversation-changing look at how reading aloud makes adults and children smarter, happier, healthier, more successful and more closely attached, even as technology pulls in the other direction.

A miraculous alchemy occurs when one person reads to another, transforming the simple stuff of a book, a voice, and a bit of time into complex and powerful fuel for the heart, brain, and imagination. Grounded in the latest neuroscience and behavioral research, and drawing widely from literature, The Enchanted Hour explains the dazzling cognitive and social-emotional benefits that await children, whatever their class, nationality or family background. But it’s not just about bedtime stories for little kids: Reading aloud consoles, uplifts and invigorates at every age, deepening the intellectual lives and emotional well-being of teenagers and adults, too.

Meghan Cox Gurdon argues that this ancient practice is a fast-working antidote to the fractured attention spans, atomized families and unfulfilling ephemera of the tech era, helping to replenish what our devices are leaching away. For everyone, reading aloud engages the mind in complex narratives; for children, it’s an irreplaceable gift that builds vocabulary, fosters imagination, and kindles a lifelong appreciation of language, stories and pictures.

Bringing together the latest scientific research, practical tips, and reading recommendations, The Enchanted Hour will both charm and galvanize, inspiring readers to share this invaluable, life-altering tradition with the people they love most.

The Enchanted Hour is a very accessible book that makes the case for reading aloud to children (mostly children, but a few later chapters do talk about reading to adults) as both a way to give children a boost in school and to provide “together” time for a family. It is much less The Sky Is Falling!/hand-wringy than other recent books about the tech vs paper book divide. Gurdon brings together a lot of research and in person interviews (and some cute family anecdotes). Some of the recommendations do seem like they apply mainly to families with two caregivers and stable incomes. She also briefly discusses reading aloud to and among adults.

The Enchanted Hour is out tomorrow wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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Reading Graphically · stuff I read

Book Love by Debbie Tung

39296114Summary from Goodreads:
Bookworms rejoice! These charming comics capture exactly what it feels like to be head-over-heels for hardcovers. And paperbacks! And ebooks! And bookstores! And libraries!

Book Love is a gift book of comics tailor-made for tea-sipping, spine-sniffing, book-hoarding bibliophiles. Debbie Tung’s comics are humorous and instantly recognizable—making readers laugh while precisely conveying the thoughts and habits of book nerds. Book Love is the ideal gift to let a book lover know they’re understood and appreciated.

Book Love is an adorably sweet little comic/graphic novel about what it’s like to be a reader and a lover of books and stories. None of the punchlines are particularly new but paired with Tung’s artwork it all becomes a warm fuzzy. And very “life-choice to live in a house with 2000+ books” affirming.

(Although I could do without the obligatory “ebooks vs paper books” riff FOR THE THOUSANDTH TIME because book formats have their merits.)

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin

33503495Summary from Goodreads:
From acclaimed author Ursula K. Le Guin, and with an introduction by Karen Joy Fowler, a collection of thoughts—always adroit, often acerbic—on aging, belief, the state of literature, and the state of the nation.

Ursula K. Le Guin has taken readers to imaginary worlds for decades. Now she’s in the last great frontier of life, old age, and exploring new literary territory: the blog, a forum where her voice—sharp, witty, as compassionate as it is critical—shines. No Time to Spare collects the best of Ursula’s blog, presenting perfectly crystallized dispatches on what matters to her now, her concerns with this world, and her wonder at it.

On the absurdity of denying your age, she says, If I’m ninety and believe I’m forty-five, I’m headed for a very bad time trying to get out of the bathtub. On cultural perceptions of fantasy: The direction of escape is toward freedom. So what is ‘escapism’ an accusation of? On her new cat: He still won’t sit on a lap…I don’t know if he ever will. He just doesn’t accept the lap hypothesis. On breakfast: Eating an egg from the shell takes not only practice, but resolution, even courage, possibly willingness to commit crime. And on all that is unknown, all that we discover as we muddle through life: How rich we are in knowledge, and in all that lies around us yet to learn. Billionaires, all of us.

I didn’t read Le Guin’s blog when she was actually writing it, so it was with a bit of chagrin that I picked up this volume of posts collected from her site. This is a really good selection of posts ranging from the life of a writer, aging, a little lit theory, and a number of posts about her cat, Pard (as befits the writer of Catwings).

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book a while back.

food · stuff I read

The Good Food: A Cookbook of Soups, Stews, and Pastas by Daniel Halpern and Julie Strand

39938179Summary from Goodreads:

An enduringly popular collection of beloved dishes from around the world featuring classic and easy-to-cook recipes

When it was first published in 1985, The Good Food was one of the first cookbooks devoted to the celebration of the best-loved and most satisfying essentials of casual cuisine and, more than thirty years later, it has remained a classic in its genre.

Drawing on the diverse cooking traditions of the Americas, Italy, France, India, Morocco, and the Middle East, Daniel Halpern and Julie Strand bring together almost two hundred recipes, including not only the quintessential examples of each cuisine, but also unusual dishes that provide surprising gastronomic rewards. The book features international staples such as Gazpacho and Jambalaya, as well as unexpected delights—Bobotie; Lamb Stew with Eggplant, Saffron, and Ginger; and Penne with Black Olive Puree and Ricotta.

The Good Food puts the emphasis where it belongs: on the pleasure of preparing—and eating—excellent and timeless dishes.

The Good Food is a new edition of the 1985 The Good Food cookbook and this is…fine. There are a lot of recipes and if you’re looking for a lot of basic meal and ingredient recipes like for stocks, etc. and plan out multi-course meals, this might work for you. But there’s a very Us (the people who do multi-course dinners and have high-end shopping options) vs Them (those of us in the populace who have one community grocery store, if that, and mostly have to feed only our selves or their family) tone to this cookbook. Right now, I really gravitate to cookbooks that have a personal, homey feel. The Good Food is not this (and there aren’t any pictures).

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Reading Women · stuff I read

Victoria The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird

33894921Summary from Goodreads:
From International New York Times columnist Julia Baird comes a biography of Queen Victoria. Drawing on previously unpublished papers, Victoria: The Queen is a new portrait of the real woman behind the myth—a story of love and heartbreak, of devotion and grief, of strength and resilience.

When Victoria was born, in 1819, the world was a very different place. Revolution would begin to threaten many of Europe’s monarchies in the coming decades. In Britain, a generation of royals had indulged their whims at the public’s expense, and republican sentiment was growing. The Industrial Revolution was transforming the landscape, and the British Empire was commanding ever larger tracts of the globe. Born into a world where woman were often powerless, during a century roiling with change, Victoria went on to rule the most powerful country on earth with a decisive hand.

Fifth in line to the throne at the time of her birth, Victoria was an ordinary woman thrust into an extraordinary role. As a girl, she defied her mother’s meddling and an adviser’s bullying, forging an iron will of her own. As a teenage queen, she eagerly grasped the crown and relished the freedom it brought her. At twenty years old, she fell passionately in love with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, eventually giving birth to nine children. She loved sex and delighted in power. She was outspoken with her ministers, overstepping boundaries and asserting her opinions. After the death of her adored Albert, she began a controversial, intimate relationship with her servant John Brown. She survived eight assassination attempts over the course of her lifetime. And as science, technology, and democracy were dramatically reshaping the world, Victoria was a symbol of steadfastness and security—queen of a quarter of the world’s population at the height of the British Empire’s reach.

Drawing on sources that include revelations about Victoria’s relationship with John Brown, Julia Baird brings to life the story of a woman who struggled with so many of the things we do today: balancing work and family, raising children, navigating marital strife, losing parents, combating anxiety and self-doubt, finding an identity, searching for meaning.

I picked up a galley of Victoria the Queen at BEA in 2016 and it, unfortunately, has been in a pile of to-read books ever since. But I recently found it on the library’s Libby site, so I decided to give it a read. Baird has done a remarkable job reconstructing the inner life of a woman whose family and official biographers tried to mold into the myth she had become. Victoria was remarkably contradictory in her views, believing that she had the right to tell her ministers what to do and shape foreign policy yet felt inferior to her husband and didn’t believe in women’s suffrage, etc. (which I was surprised to learn).

(The audiobook narrator was dreadfully slow – I had the speed kicked up to 2.25x by the end – and had terrible German pronunciation.)

Dear FTC: I had a galley of this book from BEA but wound up borrowing the audiobook from the library.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy: A Reluctant Royals Novella by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals #2.5)

42117381Summary from Goodreads:
Alyssa Cole returns with a fun, sexy romance novella in the Reluctant Royals series!
While her boss the prince was busy wooing his betrothed, Likotsi had her own love affair after swiping right on a dating app. But her romance had ended in heartbreak, and now, back in NYC again, she’s determined to rediscover her joy—so of course she runs into the woman who broke her heart.
When Likotsi and Fabiola meet again on a stalled subway train months later, Fab asks for just one cup of tea. Likotsi, hoping to know why she was unceremoniously dumped, agrees. Tea and food soon leads to them exploring the city together, and their past, with Fab slowly revealing why she let Likotsi go, and both of them wondering if they can turn this second chance into a happily ever after.

It’s here!! I have been wanting a HEA for Likotsi ever since it became clear that she’d had her heart broken by someone halfway through A Princess in Theory. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy has one of my favorite tropes – second-chance romance – so I was in all the way from the very beginning. The story starts with uber-personal assistant Likotsi on her day off, on the subway in NYC with a list of places to see in her pocket (Likotsi never leaves anything to chance, it’s why she’s so good at her job). She gets a sudden text message from an old date, one that we only know didn’t turn out the way she had hoped. It turns out Fabiola is on a neighboring subway car and she would like to rekindle the relationship or, at minimum, end the relationship on a better place than it is now. Fab has a reason for ghosting, a really good one, and Likotsi has to decide whether she wants to cast her plans aside and trust to chance again.

I really loved meeting Fab, with her hopes and dreams and how she had to put it all on hold for her family, and getting greater insight into Likotski’s life. Now that A Prince on Paper is set for April, I hope we’ll get to see a little Fabiola during Ledi and Thabiso’s wedding celebrations. I gave it 4.5 stars out of 5 only because I wish so much this was a full novel.

Avon, as an imprint of a Big Five traditional publisher, has very slowly been expanding their romances to include authors who are not white and couples that are m/m and now f/f. What I would now like to see these stories presented as part of the main Avon line, rather than the Impulse line. Because look at that great cover! (A piece of trivia I read on Alyssa’s Instagram: the cover models are a couple in real life, which is the cutest thing I have heard in ever.)

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy will be available tomorrow from your favorite ebook retailers. (And if you’re a paper book reader, it will be coming to mass market paperback at the end of February.)

ETA: There will be a second novella, Can’t Escape Love, coming out in March featuring Portia’s sister Reggie, who is featured in her wheelchair on the cover. I think this may be the first time a character using a mobility device has ever been shown on a mainstream romance cover (I did a quick perusal of the major publishers, but not an exhaustive one).

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss like twice.

Reading Graphically · stuff I read

Abbott, written by Saladin Ahmed and illustrated by Sami Kivelä

38748572Summary from Goodreads:
While investigating police brutality and corruption in 1970s Detroit, journalist Elena Abbott uncovers supernatural forces being controlled by a secret society of the city’s elite.

In the uncertain social and political climate of 1972 Detroit, hard-nosed, chain-smoking tabloid reporter Elena Abbott investigates a series of grisly crimes that the police have ignored. Crimes she knows to be the work of dark occult forces. Forces that took her husband from her. Forces she has sworn to destroy.

Hugo Award-nominated novelist Saladin Ahmed (Star Wars: Canto Bight, Black Bolt) and artist Sami Kivelä (Beautiful Canvas) present one woman’s search for the truth that destroyed her family amidst an exploration of the systemic societal constructs that haunt our country to this day.

From my first round of Pigeon/TBR recs from Book Riot (thanks, Mya!).

Abbott is an immersive, one-two punch from Saladin Ahmed on story and Sami Kivelä on art that explores the racial politics of 1970s Detroit while also giving us a supernatural-horror plot. Elena Abbot as tough investigative journalist is a smashing lead character. Kivelä’s artwork is AMAZING, the colors, the combination of gritty realism and really trippy, psychedelic fantasy art was stellar (it’s a bit gory, though, so if you’re not into that then you might want to skip this one). The story hinted at some excellent backstory for Abbott that I hope Ahmed gets a chance to explore in future arcs.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book after it was recommended to me through a paid program.

Apropos Shakespeare · stuff I read

The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse: 1509–1659, selected by David Norbrook and edited by Henry R. Woudhuysen

609526Summary from Goodreads:
The era between the accession of Henry VIII and the crisis of the English republic in 1659 formed one of the most fertile epochs in world literature. This anthology offers a broad selection of its poetry, and includes a wide range of works by the great poets of the age – notably Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Sepnser, John Donne, William Shakespeare and John Milton. Poems by less well-known writers also feature prominently – among them significant female poets such as Lady Mary Wroth and Katherine Philips. Compelling and exhilarating, this landmark collection illuminates a time of astonishing innovation, imagination and diversity.

Selected and with an introduction by David Norbrook, and edited by H.R. Woudhuysen.

One of my goals this year was to read very (very) long books. One of my goals was to start, and finish, The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse 1509-1659. I loved the poetry we read when I took a Restoration literature class, and I love Shakespeare, so I was very interested in an overview of poetry  from this period. It’s a long haul of a book but a good overview of British Renaissance verse from the early Tudor period through just before the Restoration. I would have like better notation (there were a lot of analogies or references not explained), and for the poems in Scots or Welsh better translation side by side on the page as opposed to the endnotes, but I do appreciate that the editors didn’t modernize the spelling. It was harder to read in places but very interesting to see how spelling began to standardize over these 150 years of verse.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy from the local indie bookstore.